Assessment in RE

Liz Mills is a member of the Executive Committee of the PCfRE. She is a primary school teacher and freelance writer.

As an RE co-ordinator, have you ever raised the subject of assessment in RE in a staff meeting and found yourself met by a room of hostile glares? You will not be alone. Assessment in RE can be an emotive subject. This stems from two key questions that need to be addressed before colleagues will feel motivated and equipped to assess their pupils' learning in RE.

Why should RE be assessed?

Pupils and their parents have a right to know how they are doing in RE. Clarifying with pupils the objectives of lessons, the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes they could be developing and giving them opportunities to reflect, with teachers, on their progress are the essential elements of the assessment process. This sort of on-going, learning-centred assessment can be a powerful means of motivating pupils while also raising their expectations of themselves and of the subject itself. RE deserves this style of effective teaching as much as every other subject in the curriculum. (N.B. Arguing this point with colleagues can also provide an ideal opportunity to enthuse again with them about the key objectives of RE; the knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes that only this essential subject's aims develop.)

Where teachers might resent assessing RE is in situations where RE tests become yet another bullet within the huge arsenal fired at pupils at the end of each term or year, adding to their workload at these already stressful times. While this style of summative assessment can help fill tick boxes, if used in isolation it tends to be less informative and more an intrusive interruption. So to the next question:

How can we assess RE effectively?

The simple answer to this is by being realistic. Let's break this down into a series of points:

  1. Appropriate task-setting is vital. It's not the quantity but the quality of assessment tasks which makes assessment effective. Tasks that challenge pupils and allow them to display their learning in a variety of ways provide a much better profile of their progress than quick factual tests. For example, allowing pupils to demonstrate their learning through drama (role play, hot-seating, . . .), art (designing posters, banners, artefacts, . . .), open-ended writing structures (poetry, stories, reflections, questions, lists, letters, diaries, . . .).
  2. Decide what to assess:
    • Use your school's scheme of work, based on your locally agreed syllabus and plan 1 or 2 open-ended assessment tasks for each term. Use all of these to create a profile of a pupil's learning over the year.
    • Add to this any special ‘flashes of inspiration’ that pupils have revealed. These too are worthy of credit.
    • Use your local agreed syllabus for assessment criteria to judge pupil learning.
    • There is also a QCA non-statutory 8-Level Scale for RE which can aid teachers in creating a profile of a pupil's progress. (This can be found in their non-statutory guidance sent to all schools in September 2000 and on the QCA website at http://www.qca.org.uk/ca/subjects/re/re.asp.) The scale has eight progressive levels of expectation for pupils (Infants working between levels 1-3 and Juniors between levels 2-5) and is split into two attainment targets; learning about religion and learning from religion. Pupils' learning across the range of objectives for each attainment target should be looked at for an assessment of their 'level'. (In supporting teachers in using this scale for their teaching and assessment, QCA have developed a website of pupils' work that illustrates the different levels (http://www.ncaction.org.uk/). This might be very helpful for teachers wanting to get a 'feel' for each level so that they can use their informed judgement in planning and assessing pupils work.)
  3. Valuable assessment helps pupils with their own learning, i.e., it helps them to be clear about what they are learning, and in RE this includes skills and attitudes as well as factual knowledge and understanding. Therefore, it should not be done to pupils but with pupils. Putting assessment judgements into pupil-speak or 'can do' statements, can help with this.
  4. Not all learning that goes on in RE can or should be assessed. Factual knowledge can be easily tested; the development of skills and attitudes can be measured against the QCA 8- Level Scale. However, the growth of pupils' own beliefs and values (i.e., their personal, spiritual development) is something we are only occasionally privileged to glimpse but not to grade.